In May 1980, Marilyn Tapscott, a 28-year-old secretary, was away from her desk eating lunch down the hall when someone walked into her downtown Washington office and stole her checkbook, credit cards and identification papers. For the next six months someone posing as Tapscott wrote $35,000 worth of checks to purchase microwave ovens, a stereo, color television sets, a washer-dryer, crystal chandeliers, bedroom furniture, shoes, meat and a leather coat. But for Tapscott, the worst part of it was the harassment.

She said a merchant came to her apartment building to tell the manager she was a thief, and a police officer threatened to arrest her.

After exhausting the 98 checks stolen from Tapscott's purse, the thief used Tapscott's identification to open a new checking account, thus extending the check-writing spree.

Tapscott's nightmare continued until January 1981, when police arrested Dina Marie Ciriello, 19, of College Park. Ciriello was convicted in several local jurisdictions on theft, fraud and related charges and is now in prison.

Tapscott, who now works for the National Commission on Excellence in Education, says she didn't lose any money on the rip-off and hasn't had any trouble cashing checks recently. But she admits, "I don't go to the stores that she (Ciriello) frequented." Now, when she goes to lunch, "my purse is locked either under my arm or in my desk."

She said she's not paranoid about losing her purse, but cautiously added, "A couple of weeks ago I left my purse at my ex-husband's house by accident. Not that I don't trust him, but the thought of going through it again gave me real nightmares." --ALAN M. SCHLEIN